Thinking of starting to exercise? Seen runners out there and thought, that’s what I really need to be doing? Well before you head down to the Sweatshop at Xscape and purchase your skins and new balance trainers, let me give you some facts and advice. Research suggests injury rates in novice runners is between 30% and 60% so reading some of these helpful tips can help reduce these risks and keep you out of the physio room and on the road.

First of all, enjoyment is what will keep you going, if you see running as a chore you will quickly find excuses not to get out and run. Other than not enjoying it, Injury is the next factor from keeping you off the road. Thankfully there are lots of ways to reduce injury risks and get the most out of being a new runner.

Be in a fit state to run.

Running takes its toll on the body, especially the lower extremities (knees, ankles), so if you are carrying an injury, it would be wise to deal with that prior to starting running. Book in with your G.P, Physio or health professional and make sure you are pain free before pounding the streets.

Running-related injuries occur more often among novice runners commencing a running regimen than among regular runners. Lack of previous participation will place you at a higher risk of acquiring a running related injury research suggests. Prehabilitation or preconditioning may help those just starting out and reduce their risk of falling victim to a running injury (although no evidence with new runners has been widely studied). If you are new to sport, then I would advise a preconditioning programme before starting out. Lower limb strengthening in conjunction with dynamic movements would be best. Exercises would include, squats, lunges, single leg dips, ascending plyometric box jumps and descending box jumps. These will increase strength, improve control and balance and introduce you to impact. A 4 week programme completing 3-5 times a week would be ideal preparation. A walking programme with a phased running plan would also be beneficial. An example of a phased run would be a 1 minute walk into a 1 minute run repeating 10 times. Increase as and when.

Get the right kit.

There are many local stores selling good running kit. Sweatshop in Xscape or New Balance at junction 32 sells some excellent stuff. Try and stay away from cotton t-shirts, after 20 mins you will want to be taking it off. The sweat produced will make the t-shirt stick to your body and it becomes very uncomfortable. Light, breathable running clothes will help keep the sweat away from your body and keep you comfortable when you run.

Get the right shoes.

Your adidas samba’s or Reebok Classics from the 90’s will not be suitable running shoes. It amazes me when I see runners in trainers with so little support. Finding the best-fitting shoe among the many choices at your local running store isn’t always easy. To ensure you walk out with happy feet, you need to make sure the shoe fits properly from heel to toe. You should feel snug, but not tight. Your foot should be able to move side-to-side in the shoe’s forefoot without crossing over the edge of the insole. You should be able to pinch a quarter inch of upper material along the widest part of your foot. If the shoe is too narrow, you’ll feel the base of your little toe sitting on the edge of the shoe last. Feet swell and lengthen over a run, so make sure there’s a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe (which isn’t always the big toe) and the end of a shoe. A friend or shoe fitter can measure this while you stand with your shoes laced up. Your toes should also wiggle freely up and down to avoid foot injuries. Many running shops will analyse your gait on a treadmill for free and make suggestions. Some shops will give you a 30 day exchange if the shoe isn’t right. Remember: start with a well cushioned support, comfort is key.

Don’t make these common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Buying for looks. “Some runners are too concerned with fashion, and we try and steer people away from that.

Mistake #2: Not asking for deals. “When you’re ready to pay, ask if there are any discounts available for running club members.

Mistake #3: Buying shoes that are too small. “Tight-fitting shoes lead to blisters and black toenails and that kind of thing. Women in particular are used to wearing their shoes close-fitting, as they’re often more self-conscious about the size of their feet. There is a saying, ‘Play the piano with your toes,’ meaning the fit should be roomy enough in the forefoot—about half an inch—but not sloppy.”

Mistake #4: Assuming your size. “People assume that a size is a size—that an 8 in a Nike will be the same as an 8 in a New Balance. But sizes differ because of different lasts (foot forms), the different shape of the upper, and the way the shoe is stitched together. Have your feet measured every time you buy, and always try the shoes on for fit.”

Warm up before running and cool down after.

There are not many studies out there that show warming up and cooling down prevent injuries in novice runners. What I would say is that if you warm up correctly and prepare the body for a run, you may find the run is more comfortable. The warm up exercises should be dynamic, not static stretches. Including your preconditioning programme as you warm up may be a good idea. Cooling down is effectively reducing the heart rate slowly. This can be done by walking for a few minutes. Try and focus your stretches on the tight areas, calfs, hamstrings, quads ect. This is where the static stretches will come in useful. Remember, hold these for 30 seconds. Stiffness and pain is common the following day.

Find your pace.

Not cruising at the correct pace can really deter people from running and more often than not, stop them from continuing. Running too fast is a common problem. It’s not only a physical but can become a psychological battle. Voices in your head saying “keep going” “only 30 mins to go”, “almost done”. Your breathing becomes interrupted; you’re constantly fighting against yourself, catching your breath. Running too fast can certainly increase the risk of injuries. For novice runners, forget timings, pace, distance etc. Simply run at a pace where you can chat to people. This way you can run further and take in things like the scenery and so on. As you progress, your pace will increase nicely with your fitness. Please remember though, BUILD UP SLOWLY. Anything you add needs to be done gradually. You will hear runners talk of the 10% rule, which mans increasing your weekly mileage by 10% at most. This will be a helpful guideline and avoids doing too much too soon. To give you an idea of how useful this is, it is estimated that that as much as 80% of running injuries are due to overuse – doing too much. Gradually building up your running should significantly reduce the risk of injury.

Change your scenery.

Running the same route on the same surface can get very boring over time. Adding some variety to your routes can shelve the boredom of seeing the same things on the same routes. Try trail running of heading over to the countryside. Parkrun UK have a variety of venues. Running on different surfaces can also help reduce the likelihood of injury through the repetitive nature of always running on pavement. Softer surfaces like grass and mud will have less impact on the joints thus allowing the reduction of repetitive hard surface (pavement) impact.

Listen to your body.

Common features not only for newbie runners but also experienced runners are aches and pains. If these are not settling quickly then you need to act. Your body will tell you when it’s being overused or has an injury. The important factor is doing something about it and seeking the correct advice. Waiting until something becomes really severe will only prolong the recovery time. Cold water baths are good for recovery (not ice baths). Adaptations to your routine may need to be included to help you recover. It may be worth completing some non weight bearing activities for a week or so to let the ache or pain settle. Swimming, Cross Training and Cycling are good activities to do whilst you are recovering from injury. This also optimises fitness levels and reduces de-conditioning.

Have a plan and stick to it.

Space out your runs with rest days in between and remember other exercise has an impact too. For example, fatiguing the legs in the gym one day and then running the next will more than likely become a real struggle. Be smart and think about it. Its more common sense than anything. Recovery is just as important and running. The body needs the recovery time to repair, grow and adapt. If you are not sure seek appropriate advice regarding a plan best for you.

Stick it out.

Every runner will tell themselves, “this is so tough”. I myself have times when I just want to quit. Quitting is too easy. Everyone has some sort of motivation to keep going. If you are finding it hard to stick it out, my advice would be to change your routine, vary the type of running you are doing, add in some shorter higher intensity running. These small changes can really help in keeping you going. Downloading an inspirational soundtrack and signing up to a future event are things that have worked for me. Whatever this may be DON’T GIVE UP. There are so many health benefits to running and making it a part of your life can become an incredibly rewarding passion.

Finally, join a running community.

You would not believe how incredibly supportive and friendly the running community is. A friend of mine introduced me to parkrun UK (a weekly 5km times run) a while back and I was amazed at the friendliness of the runners. Runners are a nice bunch; you don’t have to be a ‘lone runner’ stomping away on your own. Many running shops have free running groups for a variety of different levels. Another advantage of running clubs can be the social side. You will meet a varied bunch from all walks of life. It can be interesting and fun.

You can find more support online. There are forums out there for beginners which can help you get started and point you in the right direction. Twitter is full of nice runners offering help and advice. Most running groups have their own facebook page which are usually updated regularly. People are always happy to help so remember to just ask.